By Christina Elmore
Edited by Chris Cox
It was 2007, and Cynthia Byrd's youngest son, Brandon, had just died in a car accident at 20 years old. She wanted to honor him and decided on a major donation to the Richland County Public Library where Brandon had spent countless hours as a child.
Her determination never wavered. Bit by bit she raised $17,500, and now a sign commemorating her son welcomes visitors to a conference room at the library's St. Andrews branch.
"Cynthia just raised that money with blood sweat and tears," said Tina Gills, the library's foundation manager. "Working with her evoked a lot of emotion in me."
Byrd, 48, now wants to raise money for a scholarship that would further honor her son.
"My mission is to make sure Brandon's memory is kept alive," Byrd said. "Any time there's a need for something and I can give in memory of my son, that's what I'll do."
Byrd, a single mother of three, works at both Wal‑Mart and Lexington Medical Center while putting her two other children through college.
With the help of family and friends, she chipped away at the goal, turning in small bills and checks worth $5 and $10.
"After the first five or six thousand we decided we needed to do more than just ask people for money," Byrd says.
So in 2009, Byrd decided to put on a fashion and talent show as a way of raising the additional money while allowing the community to play a more active role in remembering Brandon. She invites acts to try out for the show and decides whom to feature based on Brandon's personal interests, like singing, drama and dance.
This year's show, its third annual, is scheduled for Aug. 20 at Brookland Baptist Church.
But Byrd remains modest when she speaks of her fundraising despite the praise she draws from those close to her.
"It wasn't too much of a challenge. I was nervous about raising the money, but more motivated because in my heart I just wanted to keep my son's memory alive," Byrd said.
The library "represents what Brandon stood for," Byrd said. "Learning knowledge and sharing with other people."
Brandon, his brother and sister, visited the library regularly. His passion for academics eventually led to a consistent 4.0 GPA through high school and while attending Midlands Technical College, where he was pursuing a degree in radiology, his mother said.
Byrd said education was always a priority in her home. Her oldest son, London, attends Coastal Carolina University and is majoring in marketing, and her daughter, Kymberlee, attends Lander and is majoring in health care management.
Byrd credits the library for their academic success because it provided free services that she was not able to or could not afford.
"I considered it a part of the foundation of my children's education," Byrd said. "We were always in the library checking out books, participating and using the computers. It was a place to go and enjoy yourself that didn't cost me anything."
Gills, who also was a single mother but has since married, says Byrd's determination affected her. Gills helped Byrd raise the money and said the library was eager to help any way it could.
"That size donation, we don't see a lot of them," Gills says.
Byrd says she will continue to hold the fashion and talent show to raise money for the scholarship fund. The scholarships will go to graduating seniors who plan to attend college and are members of Haskell Heights First Baptist Church, where Byrd also worships.
Madeleine McGee, president of the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organizations, says private donations like Byrd's play an increasing role in funding nonprofits throughout South Carolina.
"Since government and corporation funding has decreased, it's gone to a lot more individual giving," McGee said.
To Byrd it's just performing her civic duty to the community through the love she has for a special young man. And it helps ease the pain of her loss.
"I miss not seeing him. It's just a mother's love," Byrd says. "I suffered loss but I chose to do something positive."